Tom Philpott

Tom Philpott was previously Grist's food writer. He now writes for Mother Jones.

Ethanol: clutching at the public purse

Is anyone still taking this stuff seriously?

President Bush’s recent pledge to raise the Renewable Fuel Standard to 35 billion gallons by 2017 dropped with a bit of a thud. David Roberts made a pretty good case that all the recent hype around ethanol may soon prove quaint: that, in essence, the ethanol craze will eventually likely crumble under its weighty political, agricultural, and technological contradictions. Maybe so. Meanwhile, though, farmers are planting a shitload of corn, dozens of ethanol plants are sprouting up across the land, and the government is planning to plow ever more cash into research on cellulosic ethanol, a technology whose commercial viability …

Bad dietary habits

There’s nothing healthy about the American Dietary Association’s addiction to corporate cash.

Hey, the American Dietetic Association is having a big convention in Philly next fall. The ADA, which represents 65,000 dietitians, claims to … … serve the public by promoting optimal nutrition, health and well-being. ADA members are the nation’s food and nutrition experts, translating the science of nutrition into practical solutions for healthy living. Ah, the experts are getting together! Maybe they’ll take a critical look at soaring diabetes and obesity rates, and perhaps brainstorm ways of linking consumers directly to fresh-food sources. Then again, probably not. The conference, it turns out, is funded by major food conglomerates, which will …

Where farm subsidies came from, and why they’re still here

Note: This is the second of a three-column series on the 2007 farm bill. The first article is available here; the third here. Last week, I argued that it makes sense for society to support farming. Everybody needs to eat, and most would prefer to do so without devastating the environment or exploiting labor. Well, no one can accuse the United States of failing to commit significant resources to agriculture. Between 1995 and 2005, the Environmental Working Group calculates, the government paid farmers $164.7 billion. That averages to about $16 billion per year — substantially more, for example, than the …

Edible Media: In seitan's lair

Why the vegetarian critique of meat-eating should make meat-eaters squirm

Edible Media takes an occasional look at interesting or deplorable food journalism on the web. It’s been a rough couple of months for meat eaters. In late November, the FAO issued a startling report claiming that livestock production emits fully 18 percent of global greenhouse gases — more than all the automobiles in the world. Then out comes a big book: The Bloodless Revolution by British scholar and proud “freegan” Tristram Stuart. The book seeks to trace the “cultural history of vegetarianism from 1600 to modern times.” The existence and long history of vegetarianism should make us meat-eaters squirm a …

Why federal farm support deserves a fresh look

Note: Over the course of three weeks, as Congress begins discussion of the 2007 farm bill, Victual Reality will be devoted to analyzing the political economy of farming and teasing out an agenda for a socially and environmentally sustainable farm policy. It’s more exciting than it sounds, we swear! [Read the first installment below, the second installment here, and the third here.] Like a barnyard sow basking in attention at a county fair, the farm bill — that monstrously complex five-year plan for federal agriculture policy — has suddenly gained a high profile. If it were only that simple. Photo: …

Edible Media: The chef as public intellectual

An NY chef’s searing op-ed on the Farm Bill

Edible Media takes an occasional look at interesting or deplorable food journalism on the web. Ann Cooper, Berkeley’s crusading lunch lady, is not the only chef intervening in the national debate around food and agriculture. New York chef Dan Barber has for years been penning thoughtful op-eds on food politics for the New York Times editorial page. In his latest, he lays out a sophisticated critique of U.S. farm policy and proposes a progressive agenda for the 2007 Farm Bill. I applaud Barber for two main reasons. First, it seems to me that here in the U.S., a kind of …

Maverick chef Ann Cooper aims to spark a nationwide school-lunch revolution

Even the most intractable pathology can disappear, sometimes relatively quickly. A sign above a water fountain proclaiming “no coloreds” would cause any American to flinch today. Just half a century ago throughout the South, such abominations formed a banal part of the built landscape. Ann Cooper puts a fresh spin on school lunches.Photo: Chronicle/Craig LeeI got to thinking about deep-rooted problems and rapid change a few days ago while talking with Ann Cooper, a former star chef who now proudly styles herself a “renegade lunch lady.” Cooper is on a mission to transform the nation’s abysmal school-lunch system. I met …

Ethanol: the net-energy debate returns

Is ethanol skeptic Pimentel right after all?

In 2004, the USDA came out with a study (PDF) claiming that corn-derived ethanol delivers 67 percent more energy than it consumes in production. For many observers, including green-minded ethanol critics, the study delivered a resounding “case closed” to the decades-long debate about corn ethanol’s “energy balance.” Critiques began to focus more on the mounting environmental depredations of industrial-scale corn production. But a study released by MIT — the press release of which was ably skewered on Gristmill last week by Ron Steenblik — to my mind reopens the net-energy debate. First, a bit of context. For years, as a …

The Mustache trumpets 'clean' coal

Tom Friedman, erstwhile Great Green Hope

Tom Friedman of the NYT gets a lot of love around here as the green movement’s great popularizer, someone whose plain-spoken pronouncements can convince politicians and plain folks alike to act on climate change, etc. So what’s up with the so-called Mustache of Understanding puffing vigorously into his rhetorical trumpet (sub. required) in favor of that fantasy, clean coal? Here’s Friedman: All environmentalists have their favorite “green” energy source that they think will break our addiction to oil and slow down climate change. I’ve come out to Montana to see mine. It’s called coal. He goes on to prattle about …

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